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October 6, 2006 2:28 AM   Subscribe

Correct use: "consists of" vs "consists in"

I've been unable to get a straight answer to this anywhere else, but I know that mefi has more than its fair share of spelling/grammar/usage nazis, so I ask you: what's the deal with "consists of" and "consists in"? Google gives plenty of examples of both; is there a rule?
posted by primer_dimer to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Consist in means “is inherent in or lies within”: His social success consists in being able to persuade everyone of his amiability. It usually occurs in sentences with singular subjects that consist in either singular or plural nominals. Consist of means “is composed or made up of”: His fleet consists of a day sailer, a canoe, and a small skiff. It usually appears in a sentence with a singular subject that consists of a plural group of nominals.

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English.
posted by grouse at 2:32 AM on October 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

Partridge and Whitcut's "Usage and Abusage" has this to say:

"Consist in and consist of. Consist in is, in general, 'to have its being in'; specifically, 'to be comprised or contained in (actions, conditions, qualities', or other things non-material); 'to be constituded of', as in 'Moral government consists... in rewarding the righteous, and punishing the wicked' (Butler, 1736), 'Not every one can tell in what the beauty of a figure consists' (Jowett). Consist of is 'to be made up - or, composed - of; to have as its constituent parts, or as its substance', as in 'Newton considered light to consist of particles darted out fom luminous bodies' (Tyndall), 'An ordinary fence, consisting of a ditch and a bank' (Edge) (OED)."
posted by handee at 2:44 AM on October 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Am I derailing this topic when I thank you for this wonderful quote?
posted by ouke at 5:44 AM on October 6, 2006

I feel it might be purely gramatical

consists of N[plur]
consists in V+ing
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:17 AM on October 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Consists in should be replaceable by "exists inside of" or "exists because of," while consists of should be replaceable by "is made up of."
posted by joannemerriam at 7:10 AM on October 6, 2006

I have never read or heard anybody say "consists in." Just sounds wrong, like the preposition-challenged New Yorkers who stand on line when they queue up.
posted by Rash at 9:14 AM on October 6, 2006

I have never read or heard anybody say "consists in."

Google is your friend. about 8,290,000 hits.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:24 AM on October 6, 2006

According to the Tragically Hip, "the human tragedy consists in the necessity of living with the consequences" (of the important things we do). I always thought it was a grammatical error until I read this thread.
posted by evinrude at 3:28 PM on October 6, 2006

MonkeySaltedNuts is right. I think this is discussed in The Elements of Style. For demonstration, look at the examples people have given.
posted by lunchbox at 8:50 AM on October 8, 2006

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